As usual, the night in Rolbos is a quiet one. With everybody tucked in warmly, it is only Vrede, the town-dog, who notices the shadow move at the end of Voortrekker Weg. Something told him not to bark – whoever it is, is there with evil intent.
You can’t teach an old police dog any new tricks – he knows them all. That’s why Vrede slinks away under the veranda in front of Boggel’s Place, from where he hopes to see what this is all about. As he watches the shadow draw nearer, the light in Servaas’s bathroom suddenly comes on. Vrede knows it’s about time for the old man’s prostate to chase him up, but the shadow doesn’t. When at last Servaas’s house is dark once more, the shadow is gone.
Vrede waits a while, then ambles over to the area where he detected the movement. Faint footprints are visible in the early-morning dew – and there is a scent that lingers. Where did he smell this before?
It’s a deodorant; but since nobody in Rolbos spends money on such luxuries (and they’re not trying to impress each other, either), Vrede has lost his touch with such fineries. He’ll just have to see if he picks it up again in the future.
After breakfast, everybody converges on the bar to take a seat. As usual, they’re thirsty but today they hope that Bianca will continue with her story. She arrives last, looking rather tired. Even the white tank top, tight red jeans, heels and sunglasses can’t dispel the feeling that she looks exhausted.
“Didn’t you sleep well?” Servaas gets up to pull out a chair.
“On and off. New bed. New room. Couldn’t really settle down.”
“I was up, too, last night,” Servaas says truthfully. Gertruida snorts. Of course he was. He has to, every night…
Boggel pushes one of his special coffees over the counter, using the move to take a peek at the top. Sighing happily, he returns to his crate.
“Want to go on with your story?” Even Kleinpiet is curious.
Bianca sips her coffee, smiles and tells Boggel it’s very good. He beams back at her, feeling how he blushes when she meets his eye.
“Oh, where was I…?”
While she was with Tiny, she had a wonderful time. The giant of a man was putty in her hands and she respected him for being there for her. In a strange way, he reminded her of her father – before he started drinking. And although Tiny kept on using steroids, he never touched alcohol or any other drugs. It was 1987 and Bianca turned twenty-one in one of the grandest parties ever held in the old Malibu Hotel. Everybody who was anybody in the organisation, the right-wing or involved with the illegal purchasing of arms for the embargoed South Africa government, was there.
“Tiny really wanted the boys to see me and to envy him. At that stage he was forty-two. He also wanted to announce our engagement that night. Halfway through the evening, the police pounced.”
At that stage the National Party knew the writing was on the wall. The war on the borders could not continue and the international pressure on Pretoria was immense. The country was basically being run by the generals of the police and army – and it were them that decided to clamp down on Tiny’s organisation. Not only would that stem the inflow of illegal weapons into the country (which ended up all to frequently with the ANC’s armed wing, MK), but it would also show the world that South Africa is determined to get rid of radical movements that aimed to destabilise the country. Tiny and his colleagues, who so often helped Pretoria procure weapons, were sacrificed for the greater good of the country. Smoke and mirrors…
Bianca escaped. The police had no evidence against her and allowed her to slip out while the arrests were made.
“Look,” a uniformed man with a lot of stars on his epaulettes said, “get out. You’re innocent, we know that. We’ll be in contact later. Stay in the flat and wait there.”
Bianca sighs. “I was scared. I was young. I did what I was told.”
“So what happened?” Gertruida, with her background in National Intelligence, detects something ominous here – something she’d rather not recognise.
“That night the same man came to the flat. I almost didn’t recognise him in jeans and a T-shirt. He told me I was in big trouble: they could implicate me in trafficking in drugs and arms, that I was an accessory and that I withheld strategic information from the government.
“I think I tried crying again, but it didn’t help. He said I was in too deep to back out. But, he said, there was a way out.”
It seemed too simple to be true. There was a company, the man said, that operated out of Walvis Bay. The South West African Import and Export Company. They handled exports of timber – teak and such – to the East. This necessitated a lot of negotiations, especially with men from Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam, Japan and China. They needed a young lady who knew how to handle men, to act as an ‘interpreter’. Actually, linguistic skills had nothing to do with it. It was about keeping these foreigners comfortable and happy.
“We need a companion for these visitors, you see. Somebody who knows how to handle tough men. Somebody like you…”
“What could I do? Tiny was in jail and I had no-one to turn to. And here the man was offering me a job – and an extremely generous salary. He said I had to say, there and then, whether they must take me in to custody, or I accept the job.
“So I did. I went to Walvis Bay, worked for the company. I met Charles there. Charles Petersen. We got married. It went sour. I divorced the man, and now I am here. The end.”
Gertruida sits back with that look. Boggel knows that look, he’s seen it before. It says: ‘ you’re lying‘.
“There’s more.” Gertruida says it with a finality that brooks no argument.
“That’s all.” Bianca’s tone is final. “That’s what happened. That’s why I am here. Now – stop prying for goodness’ sakes! I’m not feeling well.” Getting up, she thanks Boggel, gives Servaas a hug, and walks out.
The group in the bar shares a stunned silence. Gertruida shakes her head:
“After the elaborate story, stretching from the middle sixties to the end of the eighties she suddenly leaves a blank of more than twenty years? It doesn’t make sense.”
,Bianca ended it so unexpectedly, so suddenly, that they all agree with Gertruida. There should have been more.
The day peters out in aimless conversation. No-one, with the possible exception of Gertruida, has the faintest idea of what happened in Walvis Bay – and even she doesn’t scratch the surface.
“This woman is dangerous,” Gertruida repeats herself, “and we have to be careful. Mark my words: this story is far from finished. I won’t be surprised if we get visitors – she’s on the run from something. And if I’m even vaguely right: we have no idea what she’s landed us in. Keep your eyes peeled, guys, keep them peeled.”
When they ask her to explain, the men agree to watch the road from Grootdrink…very carefully. “It’s the connection with that import and export company that worries me. I have to go and check that up…it rings an ominous bell somewhere in my head.”
She returns a half and hour later – and that’s when they draw up a roster to keep watch over the town. Gertruida’s news upset them all…
Servaas tells them all to relax: she just a woman with a troubled past. All she needs now is kindness and understanding. Gertruida, he says with a tremor of doubt n his voice, is overreacting… Still, when it’s his turn to be on the lookout, he sits down on Boggel’s veranda. It’s one o’clock in the morning. Vrede sleeps at his feet. And the safety catch on the shotgun is in the ‘off’ position. . .